One year after the bonsai burglary, the Pacific Bonsai Museum is finding some silver linings.
Two bonsai trees, estimated to be worth thousands of dollars, were stolen from the museum in Federal Way on the morning of Feb. 9, 2020, the Mirror previously reported.
Nearly three days later and after promises of “no questions asked” by the museum officials, the trees were returned, discovered by security guards sitting in the road leading to the museum on Feb. 11.
Of the bonsai, the Silverberry (Elaeagnus pungens) bonsai was “mishandled by the thieves,” resulting in damage of one of the tree’s larger branches. To remedy the break, wire was used to hold the branch near the site of breakage.
Curator Aarin Packard worked to put the pieces back together by applying cut-paste, which acts as a bandage for trees. Museum officials said staff have nursed the tree back to health over the past year.
“The once-broken branch is showing positive signs of bud activity and the site of the break is now hardly visible,” the museum wrote in a Feb. 9 news release.
The other stolen-then-returned bonsai is a Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii), originally grown from seed in a tin can by Japanese American creator Juzaburo Furuzawa while he was incarcerated during World War II.
National attention garnered from the bonsai theft helped the story reach a descendant of Furuzawa.
“Juzaburo’s grandson saw an article and wrote to us, letting us know that the family previously had no idea that the tree existed,” said Executive Director Kathy McCabe. “They thanked us for taking care of the tree and stated an intention to visit it in person one day. We feel honored to be connected to the Furuzawa family and look forward to meeting them.”
The bonsai is the centerpiece of Pacific Bonsai Museum’s current special exhibition, “World War Bonsai: Remembrance & Resilience.”
The exhibit, on display through October 2021, highlights Furuzawa’s living legacy through an installation designed to evoke Camp Topaz, the Utah desert barbed-wire detention camp in which Furuzawa patiently nurtured the seedling for three years, the museum said.
When he was released in 1945, Furuzawa took the bonsai home with him to the San Francisco Bay area, later becoming an important Bay-area bonsai practitioner and teacher. John Uchida, a former student of his, purchased the Japanese Black Pine from Furuzawa in 1981 and donated it to the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection (now Pacific Bonsai Museum) in 1990.
The Pacific Bonsai Museum is located at 2515 South 336th Street in Federal Way.